Authors: Alan Russell
Am had the feeling that Melvin had been repeating that point over and over. Janet conceded his remark with upraised hands
and a sigh. Kate chose to sob a little more.
“In the course of any booking,” Janet said, “we’re supposed to ask certain questions. Kate didn’t ask those questions, and
I didn’t scrutinize her booking.
“And,” she added, “Melvin deleted a line that’s been in our contracts since time immemorial.”
The nose recoiled slightly. “Objection,” he said. (This was probably as close to a trial as Melvin had ever been.) “I was
told that as a matter of course there was a line of inquiry that each sales agent had to perform. Those questions, I was assured,
were to be answered in full prior to the signing of the contract. In this instance…”
“They weren’t,” said Janet, mercifully abbreviating Melvin’s courtroom speech.
Janet handed Am the contract, and the group prospectus. He flipped through the pages, searched for what had caused the distress,
but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. The Swap Meat was the name of the group. They had booked seventy-two guest rooms
for three nights. They were utilizing two meeting rooms, the Neptune room and the Sea Horse Hall, with several meals and functions
scheduled. The individuals were to pay on their own, but first-night deposits had been tendered for all the guest rooms. The
only unusual request Am could see was that The Swap Meat had requested as many interconnecting rooms as possible.
He handed the papers back to Janet. “What’s the problem?”
“Apparently,” she said, “we’re hosting a swingers’ convention.”
“I don’t mean chimps,” she said. “We’re talking about mate swapping. Multiple sexual partners.”
“How…?” Am asked, searching out eyes while stretching the question. He must have lingered too long on Kate, who started to
blubber once again.
“Kate assumed they were a gathering of swap meet organizers,” said Melvin, nose slightly up. “It wasn’t a case of them misleading.
It was just that the right questions were not asked.”
By repeating that line often enough, Melvin undoubtedly hoped to construct a lead lining for his ass. For the last five years
he had been the Hotel’s final word on the law, even if he wasn’t exactly on the track to a Supreme Court nomination. His legal
matriculation had come from a downtown San Diego law-degree mill. Somehow he had passed the state bar. In a weak moment, Melvin
had once admitted it had taken him “several attempts.”
Am made the mistake of turning back to Kate, heard her sobs start to redouble, and then settled for Janet. “It was one of
Kate’s first sales,” said Kim. “We went over the importance of getting the money in advance, of making out a rooming list,
and having the contract signed. I remember complimenting her on the booking. We booked them at full price.”
In most hotels there is a rack rate, and then a tiered tariff structure. Travelers often avail themselves of the corporate
rate, or commercial rate, or group rate, or any of a dozen other enticing names that signify a special rate. Some hotels resemble
flea markets more than inns, where the negotiating of a room rate compares (sometimes unfavorably) to dealing with the vendors
along Avenida Revolución in Tijuana. Am had heard of one hotelier that had sought professional help for a persistent nightmare.
In the man’s dream his guests were gathered at the hotel lounge, where the subject of room rates surfaced, and comparisons
were made. The wide disparity of the rates proved not only a revelation to the guests, but a cause for anger. Everyone thought
they had the “special special,” just as everyone thinks he knows where the pea is in a shell game. Fueled by righteous indignation,
the guests began to riot. After breaking glasses and ravaging the bar, the lynch mob converged on the lobby. The hotelier
apparently always awakened just as his office was being stormed.
“Why wasn’t a history done on this group?” asked Am.
Before a hotel accepts business, it wants to make sure potential clients are solvent. Hotels also like to be reassured that
their property will still be standing by the time the group leaves (though Am was willing to bet that most hotels would take
a chance on booking Attila and his Huns, given a sizable cash deposit). As a matter of course, sales departments do a background
check on those properties where groups have stayed before, attempting to determine if there were any problems associated with
their stay. Many headaches are averted through such calls.
“We did a history on them,” said Janet. “They last stayed at the Briar Inn. Their controller would only say that there was
no damage, and that they paid their bill in full upon departure.”
“Where’s the Briar Inn?” asked Am. “In Sodom and Gomorrah?”
No one answered, unless Kate’s wailing qualified as such.
Am turned to counsel. “So where’s our loophole for terminating this gathering?” he asked.
Melvin avoided any eye contact. Even his nose movement was minimal. “Legally,” he said, “we are setting ourselves up for the
losing end of a lawsuit if we try to breach the contract, especially at this late date.”
“Don’t we have some kind of morals clause in our contract?”
“Hotels are hardly the bastions of morality,” said Melvin.
“They’re setting up the Neptune Room now,” Janet said. “They’re making it into an… orgy room.”
“I saw them getting it ready. That’s when I discovered what was going on. I went there to meet with the two group leaders,
Mr. and Mrs. Lanier. They were busy putting mats down on the floor, which I thought was a little unusual. Then I noticed the
sounds coming from the four large-screen televisions. Adult films were playing on all of the monitors. The Laniers were oblivious,
treated all the screaming and groaning like it was elevator music, but you should have seen all that was going on.”
For a moment, Am was afraid that Janet was going to go into details, but she caught herself, shook her head, and tried to
regain her thoughts.
“You know,” asked Janet, “how they say you can’t see the forest for the trees? Well, I was so taken aback it took me a while
to see everything in front of me. Then I noticed that the north side of the room had four tables full of sexual paraphernalia.
Some of the props are rather pronounced.”
Am couldn’t help it. He groaned.
“I was too shocked to talk. And being propositioned, twice, in my very short time there, didn’t help me get my voice back.
“The offers came from
Mr. and Mrs. Lanier,” she said, with not a little emphasis.
Am didn’t have a “tsk tsk” left in him. His mouth was dry and his armpits were wet. The idea of the Neptune Room being used
for an orgy wasn’t a pleasant one. Royalty had been feted in the room. The worst thing Am had ever heard happening in the
Neptune Room was the food fight between the eastern and western account representatives of a major pharmaceutical company.
It was said that the east had won, but only because they commandeered the dessert trays first.
The Neptune Room was part of the so-called Seven Seas, seven meeting rooms of nautical names located on the north side of
the Hotel. Of all the Seven Sea banquet rooms, the Neptune Room was probably the least secluded. It had huge bay windows on
both its west and east sides, and a lot of walk-by traffic. By keeping the curtains closed, the Hotel could try and control
the sights, but how were they going to control the sounds? The sexcapades wouldn’t go unnoticed. Explaining to guests would
be bad enough, but what about the press? Given the questionable nature of Dr. Kingsbury’s death, Am expected the Hotel would
soon be awash with reporters. Damn if it didn’t already have one nosing around. Am remembered the firm set of Marisa’s jaw.
She was on the hunt for something. A sex scandal would probably work for her as well as a murder. The banner headlines were
easy to imagine.
VENERABLE HOSTELRY HOSTS ORGY
HISTORIC HOTEL A BAWDY HOUSE
! There were production and copy people who went to bed at night dreaming of such a story. Odd how the sweet dreams of some
are the midnight sweats of others.
Am offered a long and painful sigh. You expect crazy things to go on at a hotel. In some ways, hotels even condone them. One
hotel had gone so far as to advertise, “Have Your Next Affair Here.” The copy was written around a display showing an ornate
function, but the double entendre left room for thought, if nothing else.
Halfway into his ulcer, Am remembered that he wasn’t Hotel management any longer. No one could tell him it was in his job
description to stop an orgy.
“Why’d you call me?” asked Am. “Shouldn’t you be talking with Mr. Fujimoto? Or Mr. Matsuda? Or Mr. Takei? Or the shogun himself,
“We’re afraid to,” admitted Janet. “Can you see us trying to explain group sex to the Japanese?”
“They might be easier than the Southern Baptists,” said Am. That flock, he remembered, was also meeting in the Seven Seas,
in a room just a stone’s throw away from the swingers. He hoped that geographic distance would stay only figurative.
“I thought of calling you before anyone else, Am,” said Janet. “You used to come up with all those clever outs. Everyone always
admired how you pulled rabbits out of hats. You had names for your solutions…”
“Procrustean solutions,” said Am. After Procrustes, the innkeeper who made his guests fit his beds, whether by stretching
them or hacking them.
“Yes,” she said. “You always had the magic touch.”
Flattery was getting her somewhere. Am did pride himself on being the Houdini of the hotel world, pulling off miraculous escape
after miraculous escape.
“What do you think about all of this, Melvin?” Am asked.
“I’m game for trying to handle it on our own,” he said. “I’ve been reading up on Japan. Did you know the United States has
more than half a million lawyers, while Japan has less than ten thousand? Maybe I’m paranoid, but I get the feeling our own
Japan Incorporated doesn’t think a Hotel counsel is necessary.”
Especially a Hotel counsel that screws up on contracts.
“None of us want the Hotel to suffer,” said Janet.
Translation, thought Am: None of us want to lose our jobs.
“We want the buck stopped here,” said Melvin, with bobbing nose.
“No,” said Am. “You want the fuck stopped there.”
Kate started crying again, making Am feel guilty enough to commit himself to help. “How many of their room block,” he asked,
with obvious reluctance, “have already checked in?”
“About half,” said Janet. “The rest are arriving today. Most are coming in on a chartered bus from Las Vegas.”
Where else? thought Am. He considered, then rejected, the idea of instructing the clerks to tell the remainder of the group
that there were no rooms at the inn. Enough of the swingers were already in-house to make that strategy ineffective.
“They’ve got some welcoming dinner, don’t they?”
“Yes,” said Janet. “At seven tonight in the Sea Horse Hall.”
“What’s the entree?”
“Salmonella poisoning,” Am said. “If we can arrange that, it should put all of them out of commission.”
“Am!” said Melvin, horrified.
“It’s either that,” Am said, “or saltpeter.”
“Be sensible,” said the lawyer.
“All right. We’ll advertise the orgy on our reader board, and put the concierges in charge of selling tickets to other guests.”
“S-samonella sowns gootome,” sniffled Kate.
“Maybe we could reason with them,” said Melvin.
“Sure,” Am said. “Thank you for traveling from around the country, but now that you are here, we request that you call your
group sex off. Just read your Gideon Bibles, and enjoy the view.”
“I can’t be a part of a Lucrezia Borgia solution,” said Melvin.
“I wasn’t really serious,” said Am. He was almost convinced of that. For a few moments he thought. Or was that prayed? Saint
Julian is the patron saint of the hotel business. Am had suggested on more than a few occasions that the Hotel should provide
Julian a shrine. Or did the entire Hotel already qualify as that?
“Did you get this group their connecting rooms?”
Janet nodded. “We have them on the second and third floors, with blocks of connecting rooms.”
“Good,” Am said. “That means we can quarantine them, station personnel around their room blocks to make sure things don’t
get out of hand. The last thing we want is a French farce being played out throughout the Hotel.
“Not that we can afford to give them the impression that they’re not welcome. That would make them dig in their heels, and
quote their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of libido. Ostensibly, we’ll be rolling out the bordello
red carpet, and act like they’re the most welcome group we have ever had.
“Reality won’t be as pleasant as our lip service. Housekeeping will have to fix their rooms up special. All the maids should
have stogies and instructions to light up as they prepare their rooms. We’ll want to leave behind the guest rooms from hell.
Dirty linen, and towels from the rag bags. One functioning lightbulb per room, and a twenty-five watter at that. Old socks,
or worse, in strategic places. The picture of neglect should yell out from every corner of every one of their rooms.
“You’ll also need to coordinate with the front desk. Don’t connect any phone calls to the rooms. Take messages, and make sure
they’re delivered hours later. Ring the rooms, at least those phones that are still left operational, and then apologize for
having connected to the wrong room. Have the clerks be as inefficient as possible. Tell them I know how expert they can be
Am thought a moment. He had twenty years of guest complaints to work from. “Coordinate with room service.
the food arrives, make sure it’s late and the order is all wrong. Room service should come without cutlery. You’ll need to
expand the conspiracy to all departments that might be called upon to go up to those rooms. We want everyone to appear happy
to help, to show the same kind of eagerness two-year-olds bring to fingerpainting, and we want them to leave the same kind
of mess. Any cure is to be worse than the disease.”